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Yellow Pages reality check?

Brian Gorman

True Grumbler
I just received a call from SBC Yellow Pages, it is time to renew for another year. They have quoted us a 22% increase and I am appalled that they could even think I would just sign on the bottom line for that kind of increase!

That brings me to the overall performance of the yellow pages advertising medium. We have been tracking our advertising and to be honest, the 3 three different books of Yellow Page ads that we run in are only generating about 2-4 projects a month. Total cost of the ads is about $300 and it is only generating between $300-$700 worth of business (on averages). Is the landscape of Yellow Page ads effectiveness evolving? Is the consumer more apt to respond from coupon mailers and online advertising? Of course a multi-layered approach is necessary for successful advertising, but at what expense?

Don't get me wrong here, I still believe in having some presence in the Yellow Pages. We are in the heavily populated Southern California area and there are at least 5 Yellow Page Books in our area. The SBC Book is of course the monster book. But, effectiveness is part of the marketing story and I am wondering if other framers in heavily populated areas have seen a decrease in the effectiveness of their investment in Yellow Page display ads? Given the SBC book is more of a regional type coverage area. Maybe looking towards the smaller localized books would a wiser investment?

Any thoughts on the 2004 marketing plans?
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SPFG, Supreme Picture Framing God
Brian I too feel Yellow page adds are a necessary evil. However i keep their adds to a minimum. I have previously mentioned the fact that one of the LOCAL Books misprinted our add when we move (Some years ago) and put our OLD address in the book. This occured when they asked if there were any changes to our add and we said No1 other than the address. Point was we didn't even know this till some time later when a prospective client called and said they couldn't find us.So if it took so long to be told just how many propects use the pages to find a framer?
But an even more interesting turn of events JUST happened.We received a call from a young Lady who said she was verifieing our add and asked to speak to the owner of the shop we bought out 16 years ago.She said this person was on her list as the contact person for Needles and Knots.The shop we bought out was Bell ,Book and Brush.Yea! they siund alike. But better yet we have placed adds for 15 years previously and NOw she has the name of the other owner.Kind of makes you wonder about their record keeping and their ability to get your add straight doesn't it.
we honestly thought this Yong lady was some con artist trying to get our private information.
so like I said we only take the simplist adds we can and even then they cost way more than we feel they are worth.
Charle BUDDY Drago


SGF, Supreme Grumble Framer
I don't think I could EVER justify a large display ad in the YPs - EVER. The YPs are a necessary evil - but too many framers I think, go overboard on the big fancy display for the return they get. In my honest opinio, a simple in-column ad, maybe with color highlights, should be sufficient. Our ad runs about $200/mo and I can't imagine paying more for what we get out of it. Yes, we get lots of business, but I would want 2-3 times MORE business to justify a different ad.

Of course every market is different, but is it necessary to be in 2,3 or 4 books? We're a 1,000,000+ sized market spread over 4 counties, but the majority of our new customers come from less than 10 miles away. In my experience, these customers come from something OTHER than the YPs - the web, word of mouth, or a mailing campaign.

As we finish up our 2004 plan I've realized it's just TOO easy to listen to an ad rep's pitch ("of, course, this is the best medium for your message, Mr. Framer...") and p*** away money.


Bob Carter

SPFG, Supreme Picture Framing God
I have told my personal story so many times, I'm not sure the numbers are accurate any longer. But, many years ago we had a quarter-page ad in the Phoenix Metro books. One year they mis-listed one of our phone numbers and as part of the settlement, YP had to pay for a call-forwarding service for the local company. But the catch was the local phone company had to bill me and YP reimbursed me.

The result was the charges were based on a monthly fee and a per-forwarded call charge. So every month we got an itemized number of calls that dialed the listed number that was forwarded to the correct number. The number was so small and it reflected those calls that were generated by the YP ad.

Needless to say, we went with the free column listing only.

But, I still get the same pitch from the sales reps ensuring me business beyond my wildest imagination by buying large ads.

Only, I have the proof of the converse and show it to the reps (that seem to change yearly). The back-pedalling rivals most NFL cornerbacks.


PFG, Picture Framing God
I too had a problem with SBC yellow pages, actually it was Pacific Bell in those days. Without going into the gory details, well maybe a little. I canceled a large all area ad due to poor performance. They went ahead and ran a smaller ad without my knowledge or approval. I naturally did not pay for the ad, but told them if they could produce a signed contract I would gladly pay.

I have been using their free listing for about eighteen years now. I have never noticed a drop in sales as a result. I've heard from some framers that they have done well with their ads, I've talked to others who say they do nothing.

Myself, I think it is a preposterous waste of money. If you took the same amount of money you pay them, turned it into one dollar bills, then had a bonfire weenie roast on them, you would get 100 times more advertising out of it. I would be willing to bet you would even get on national news.

Please note, that last comment, although true, I think you would also go to jail for doing it. Our government gets cranky when you deliberately destroy or deface their money.


B. Newman

SGF, Supreme Grumble Framer
It all depends on what (specifically) you're selling.

When I first went into business, I sat down with a man I admire that owns a VERY successful carpet and flooring company (multi-million in sales). I had a whole list of questions I asked him about business. One of them, of course was yp marketing.

He told me "it all depends on what you're selling." He said that when he offered carpet cleaning as a part of his business, the yp was the #1 draw. He had a full page ad, but for the carpet and flooring sales it was very poor, and he only had a listing.

He said if you're selling something that the customer will use sporadically or is highly specialized, then yp is your best bet. But if it's a very high dollar commodity, then the yp will not work as well.

I've found that to be very true. For our caning and antique restorations, yp is the great majority of our calls, but for framing (like all of you) it doesn't draw much.

It's the personal contact that comes with the caning that brings in most of my customers. Then from that the direct mail keeps them.

But if you do ANYTHING that can set you apart from the crowd, and I mean REALLY set you apart, then yp may be your ticket.



SGF, Supreme Grumble Framer
we've taken virtually ALL the money we spent on YP and put it into either direct mail or cable TV Targets directly my audience, isn[t a shotgun approach like yp and I can change it quarterly or, in the case of mailing, every time I mail.

Mike Labbe

Member, Former moderator team volunteer
How ironic that this thread has been posted. Our rep has been calling for two days and faxed over some revised changes to our ad. (yea its 3 sizes bigger!)

The yellow pages has been a real loser for us and i'm not sure what to do this year, and he claims the deadline is in a few days. (earlier this year)

Year 1: We had a (business card size) color ad in the Providence book and smaller ads in 2 other neighboring books for areas within 10 miles. (we literally border the area where 2 books meet within one building) This cost over $900/month. We also ran a YP coupon year 1, which brought in about 2-3 people all year.

Year 2: (current book) We shrunk the Providence ad down to half size and went with one color and a white background. The others were left the same. We dropped the coupon. This brought it down to $428/month.

Year 3: (book will be out in April 04) I don't know what to do. I'd like to shrink it even more, or perhaps lose the color. This is the year(Month actually) YELLOW BOOK comes to the area, and we have a $175/mo 3 ad spread in that book. Yellowbook covers the same area as all 3 of Verizon's books.

The yellow pages has been our least effective advertising choice so far, and at the same time - the most expensive. We have had 3 (less than ethical) reps so far. Maybe they're just doing what they are trained to do...

Another thing that 'frosts my cookies' is that alternate phone companies are scooping up business customers at a fast pace (cox cable, etc). Verizon only delivers ONE set of books to people who aren't on their service, (even if the company has 200 lines). We're losing a lot of exposure.

On the other hand, we get customers daily from the web. (some even from bigyellow.com) I think people are looking online for numbers instead of in the books. I know I havent touched a yellow pages in a couple years, other than to look at our ads.

I'll let you all know how we make out.

B. Newman

SGF, Supreme Grumble Framer
The more places you can have your phone number available, the better off you are. HOWEVER that does not mean it has to be large ads.

I prefer the "in-line" box ads. They are listed alphabetically so YOUR number is easier to find. (I have about 7 1" box ads in 2 books for a total of about $200)

In the Guerilla Marketing books, Levinson advises to always point customers to the White Pages to find your number. That way they are never bombarded with your competition's ads and phone numbers. When they are looking for YOU from YOUR marketing, they don't need to go the yp and see that "Oh gee, here's a framer a lot closer." (Today, that is the greatest advantage of having a web site.*)

This is probably the biggest reason for consistant direct mail. If you keep your phone number in front of your customers/prospects, even though they may not need it for a year or more, when they finally do need it, they won't have to go looking for it.

*Shamless plug here - Look for my article "That Does Not Compute" coming up in the February issue of Art and Frame Review. ;)


[ 01-09-2004, 09:11 AM: Message edited by: B. Newman ]

Cliff Wilson

SGF, Supreme Grumble Framer
In my first year I went with a medium sized display ad in appropriate YP books. This year I am changing to the free listing only.

I am absolutely convinced that for me and my market the money will be better spent on either radio ads or improved direct mail.

Bill Henry-

SPFG, Supreme Picture Framing God
I’ve got to disagree with the vast majority of youse guys.

The Yellow Pages are, indeed, a necessary evil – and they are outrageously expensive, but, as far as I’m concerned, they’re the only game in town. We’ve tried direct mail and coupons and they’ve been a bust.

When we first opened, the YP was the only vehicle with which we advertised. We started with a 1/4 page ad (we’ve since downsized to 1/8), and we did well in our first year. The only way our customers could have found us was through the YP.

If you only have only a listing, you can save a whole bunch of money, but that assumes that your prospective customers already know who you are and have been there before. But, if you’re trying to attract new customers, you’ve got to stand out among the crowd. That’s where a display ad comes in. I don’t believe your ad has to be the biggest or the flashiest, but it does have to attract attention – a distinctive logo should do that for you.

When my wife (who is a much more knowledgeable consumer than me) goes to the yellow pages for something new, she is attracted to display ads first. From those available, she’ll weed out those that more closely fits her criteria. Very rarely will she go to phone number that is just a listing. She figures that they are too small or insignificant to meet her needs. If they just have a listing, she figures they are probably working out of their home as a hobby. I don’t think she is unique in her approach.


SGF, Supreme Grumble Framer
Marketing costs are directly influnced by the metro market size, not only the neigborhood market size.
Detroit is the 5th largest market in the US and the rates are priced accordingly (super high). Many of the media subdivisions of territory are gerrymandered to include areas not in your "local" market. My trade area center of only 5 miles is cut up by 3 major phone book territories and 4 speciality phone book territories. There are three counties and 5 area codes within my area (4 are overlay areas). There are another 2 area codes in the metro area.

An example of rates would be a 30 spot on the all news radio drive time of $750 per spot!

The local give-a-way paper is in the neighborhood of $25 per column inch. That is for 3 suburbs, population of 80,000 and possibly 15 other frame shops.


PFG, Picture Framing God
Like I said, some framers swear by YP advertising, some think it's a bust. The only way to really find out is to run an ad for a year, then always make a point of asking EVERY customer how they found out about you.

I've been in business for almost thirty years and in the industry in San Diego for over forty years, they just find me.

Betty's comment about pushing the white pages is right on the money. When I was with Aaron Brothers years ago, all they used was white page advertising. Every newspaper ad always stated " Find us in the white pages." it was even on some of their business cards for a few years.


Bob Carter

SPFG, Supreme Picture Framing God
Bill brings up a very valid point, but my question to those that feel YP is effective is by what vehicle do you validate it's effectiveness?

We had a firm ,quantifiable method to see exactly who did call us specifically from the number listed in the ad and it was measurably "insignificant". But, it was measurable.

How does Bill or the rest quantifiably measure the effectiveness? I think we feel trapped by the prospect of Not having a presence and what that might predict in potential loss of sales.

I think for most of us the proof is anecdotal at best, and it's effectiveness (IMHO, anyway) is about the same as almost any other undercapitalized promotional effort that we all have tried. That being poor at best.

We simply don't have the resources (capital and ability)to make an impact of any serious degree-in spite of what the YP reps insist.

I am quite confident that the only significant impact that any of our ads ever made was to the pocketbook of the reps.

But, if there is a truly measureable vehicle to quantify the results, I am all ears


True Grumbler
My wife and I are considering reducing the size of our YP presence. We currently have 2-1/2 column inches. One of the rules of thumb I think about is the size of the ads placed by people in the marketing and advertising industry. Check it out, they're the ones who study this kind of thing and in our area of the country they don't waist there money with YP! Now I just have to go by my gut.

The King

SPFG, Supreme Picture Framing God
How does Bill or the rest quantifiably measure the effectiveness?
For a year we listed our second phone line in our yellow page ad. The white pages, as well as our business cards, order forms and everywhere else, listed the primary phone number. We logged the calls coming in on the second line (after we wiped the cobwebs off the phone.) Now we do a free listing - that's all.

Every new customer (defined as someone who isn't already on our customer list) is asked how he/she heard about The Total Picture. I would think everybody would do that.

Bob Carter

SPFG, Supreme Picture Framing God
Hey Ron-Does wiping the cobwebs off the phone mean it never rang or that only the primary number was called or that the YP ad didn't generate any/many calls? Was only the secondary number listed in the YP ads? Did you mean to eliminate the primary number from the YP to test it's effectiveness in pulling customers?

If so, it was an effective way to measure the ad. But, I doubt many others would be as adventuresome as to try that if they even had two phone numbers for incoming calls. We don't have two incoming lines, for examples.

Since you ask every new client how they found about your store, would you mind sharing the results? For example, for 2003 (since you are established for many years now)what are the three best resources for sending clients your way? And does that mesh with the data when you had a larger YP ad?

I find this type of info very interesting, especially for long term established operations

The King

SPFG, Supreme Picture Framing God
Bob, what I meant was that almost no calls came into the number listed in our yellow pages. About 95% of people calling were getting our primary number from some other source. I ran that little test when I realized that a high percentage of the calls we were getting were inquiring about our store hours, despite that fact that the hours were listed in the yp ad.

In my old location, nearly all my new customers were referrals from friends, relatives, co-workers, etc who are existing customers. This wasn't terribly surprising since I zapped my yellow page ads years ago and do very little other advertising. As I mentioned in another thread, I've managed to convince myself that I'm as busy as I want to be.

Since I moved 3-1/2 years ago, referrals still account for the largest portion of my new customers, but - oddly - quite of few of those referrals are coming from the frame shop two doors down that doesn't do textiles, shadowboxes, collages or any of the other stuff I love to do.

Also, my visibility must be better from the street. I only moved 2 blocks, to the other side of our main street, but many of my new customers tell me they were walking by or driving by when they spotted me. That was very rare at the old location. Parking is much more convenient here, too.

If you want numbers instead of generalizations, I can get them for you when I'm in the shop sometime.

B. Newman

SGF, Supreme Grumble Framer
Originally posted by Bob Carter:

Since you ask every new client how they found about your store, would you mind sharing the results?
Every ticket we write has a spot on our copy for "source." When I do my year-end stuff, I'll let you know.

I have done this every year since I've been open. I can tell you for each year what customers came from where and the percentage for yp, referral, personal contact, etc. (Didja know I had "detailitis?" ;) )



CGF, Certified Grumble Framer
I use Verizon yellow pages and one other. In this area of snowbirds and second homes, YP are neccesary for me. Although we are the oldest shop in the city meaning referrals have proved to be the majority of business
Eight years ago when we bought Dad's shop I revamped the YP ads completly by taking Dad's slogan 'compare our prices' out of the ads.
I did a different ad in each book, keeping to inline boxes. It was an unscientific way to tell where the customer was looking. (one book had the phrase'challenges welcome')
This year is the 30th year and I have yet to decide what to do for the ad. More mailings are in order and I just got my shipment of the Decor Home mini magazine to hand out to my friendly realtors, beauty salons, my landlords restaurant and where ever else I can get them. I wouldn't mind doing a quarterly newsletter but I just don't know where to start with that.

Jim Miller

SPFG, Supreme Picture Framing God
The general consensus here seems to be that YP advertising isn't worth its cost for frame shops. I agree.

I used to buy quarter-page YP ads, and played the pricing games the YP salesfolks dragged in to up the ante every year. Most years it was between $500 and $1,000 per month.

That same amount of money, spent on direct mail within a few miles of the store, generates many times the revenue of the best YP ad I ever had.

For those who have stores all over town, YP advertising might make sense, along with regional magazine, TV, and radio ads. But for us single-shop little guys, huh-uh.

And another thing -- I would not buy a listing of any size in a competing, secondary or third-tier phone book. We have several competing phone books in central Ohio. I now buy a simple, in-column ad in only one of them.

[ 01-10-2004, 11:16 AM: Message edited by: Jim Miller ]


PFG, Picture Framing God
Ron made an interesting observation about the callers to his store. I realized it happens here, also. I have never had one person say they saw my ad in the YP. They do ask what my hours are and/or how to get to my store. The answer to both questions are in the YP ad. I shrank my ad last year and saw no difference. I do advertise on the local classical radio station on a regular basis. This keeps my name out there. My store is located across the street from a major super market so every time they go shopping, they see my storefront which usually has some sort of plant flowering in the window. I have had people come into my store just to see what it is that is flowering and then look around and return with stuff to frame. After 10 years, word of mouth is a real help as well.
After reading the above postings, I've come to the decision to reduce the YP ad to its' smallest size and save even more money. Just for comparison... the radio ads cost about $5400 a year giving me about 10 to 20 ads per week depending on the season and I can change the copy whenever I want.

Terry Scidmore CPF

MGF, Master Grumble Framer
I just renewed my YP ad in my local directories, and my large metropolitan directory. I have felt that my in column ad was not generating the business that I would like.

This summer, preparing for the fall YP salesmen onslaught, I contacted other business people who had a variety of ads, and asked them to share their experience with YP ads. As noted earlier, certain kinds of business get a great deal of YP use. In general, framers did not.

One interesting thing that came out was that prices were all over the map. When the sales reps came in, they gave their usual song and dance about how they were only raising the price of my ad by x dollars because they were so nice. I showed them my comparisons, offered them what I felt the advertising was worth, and told them if they didn't want it, they could give me the free one line listing this year. They took what I offered.

Which leaves me wondering how much less I could have paid before they would have refused!!! I had been told years ago that the first month to three months of your bill pays for everything connected with putting out a directory. After that, everything is profit.

I also ended up with a note from the manager of one of the YP books explaining to me how some of the other ad prices were calculated. She was so convinced that she had to prove me wrong that she ended up proving me right. Her note documented that several other business accounts had paid too much last year, and that their current billings were also in error. I made copies of the notes and gave them to those businesses (who are also friends of mine).
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